Taking Back What and From Whom?: Imagined Communities and the Role of WordPress in the Future of the Open Web

Taking Back What and From Whom?: Imagined Communities and the Role of WordPress in the Future of the Open Web

“Taking Back The Open Web” is a bold theme, but every word in that sentence requires some significant unpacking if we’re to agree on a path forward. From whom is the open web being taken back? Who took it from us in the first place? What do we mean by open, and do we really mean “web” here?

Dries’s version of the open web (to which the CFP linked) is a vaguely defined point in the recent past where “the web felt like a free space that belong to everyone.” Anil Dash’s version, which he calls “The Web We Lost” posits a time when the web was about “letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves” which has been replaced by a system which “continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy” via “narrow-minded, web-hostile products.” The call for papers for this conference, with a focus on publishers, points to “stress” caused by “proprietary formats which enforce limits and restraints.” There’s even an Open Web Foundation (founded in 2004) dedicated to “open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies,” to which primary subscribers are Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

Is the conflict between the open web and the (presumably) closed web which opposes it, really about formats? Is it about access and distribution? Is it about a small number of powerful corporate overlords versus inspired, creative small business entrepreneurs?

In this talk I’ll lay out a couple of different ways of thinking about the “open web” we’re after, what each of those visions postulates as the problem, and what solutions emerge from that set of problems. I’ll conclude with some of my own take on how WordPress as itself an “imagined community” (cf. Benedict Anderson’s 1983 book) can and should contribute to shaping the future of the web. (Hint: It’s about democratizing publishing through open source AND community).


John Eckman

August 08, 2018